Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

Louisville is getting serious about reclaiming its bourbon heritage. Today, Heaven Hill Distilleries, the largest independent family-owned and -operated distilled spirits supplier in the United States, announced plans for a new artisanal pot-still distillery and interactive tourism experience at its 528 Main St. office along Louisville’s historic “Whiskey Row.”

Work on the multimillion-dollar Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is to begin June 15 with a projected opening date of September 2013, in time for Bourbon Heritage Month, distillery officials announced at a standing-room-only news conference with Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson and Mayor Greg Fischer. In attendance were several members of the Shapira family and Parker and Craig Beam, Heaven Hill’s father-and-son master distillers. 

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience will include an interactive exhibit on distilling, a Whiskey Row-themed tasting room, a retail store and a “speakeasy”-themed banquet room. Its facade will be dominated by a dramatic five-story Evan Williams bottle that will become three dimensional in the two lower floors and form a “bourbon fountain” in the lobby.

The attraction is named for Heaven Hill’s flagship bourbon brand, which in turn is named for “Kentucky’s First Distiller,” a Welsh immigrant who built his commercial distillery at what is now Sixth Street at the Ohio River in 1783. Evan Williams was also a city trustee known to bring a jug of his finest to trustee meetings and Louisville’s harbormaster – a job with a lot of power in the days when the city was the major shipping port for whiskey headed to New Orleans and other points south. Visitors to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience will be able to view exhibits that recreate his original distillery.

“We welcome back ‘the spirit’ of Evan Williams,” Heaven Hill executive VP Harry Shapira said.

Heaven Hill knows how to build a tourism destination. Its gorgeous Bourbon Heritage Center, with a bourbon-barrel-shaped tasting room, draws more than 60,000 people per year to Nelson County, where the company has its headquarters, warehousing and bottling operations. Its bourbon and whiskeys are produced at the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville. Like the Heritage Center, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience was designed by Solid Light Inc. of Louisville (president Cynthia Torp is a founding member of the Bourbon Women Association).

The Heaven Hill project is the latest in a series of projects celebrating Louisville’s “urban bourbon” heritage. Michter’s plans to open a boutique distillery in the Old Fort Nelson Building at Eighth and Main, about two blocks west of the Heaven Hill site. Last year, Four Roses partnered with BBC to open the Four Roses Bourbon Barrel Loft at 300 W. Main, which has a view of the Whiskey Row Lofts in the 100 block, where other former distillery-related buildings are being rehabbed into restaurants and bars. 

Mayor Fischer called the Heaven Hill project “another exclamation point” on Louisville’s food and beverage industry. “We call bourbon a food group around here,” he said to laughter.

Admission to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is projected to be $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and $5 for children under 21.

(Rendering courtesy of Solid Light)

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